If you were to ask anyone what it takes to make great wine, the answer would inventively good grapes. But over the last decade, the quality of wines you are able to produce from a winemaking kit has been increasing a lot. Nowadays, well-made wine from a kit is good enough to impress even the most discerning wine drinker.
Understanding How to Make Wine from a Kit
Making wine from a kit is not just a great way for beginner wine-makers to dip their toes in the water and get acquainted with the process, these kits give experienced wine drinkers a chance to sample wine made with grapes from regions that would otherwise be hard to obtain. For example, there are wine varieties grown in North American that are produced in batches so small that they never make it to the consumer market and stay in circles very close to the vineyard.
At any time of the year, there are recipe kits available to anyone with an Internet connection that is sourced from the best conditions in places like Italy, Spain, Australia, and California. Not to mention some very unique recipe kits for some rarer style of wine like late-harvest wines, ports, and sherries.
The increase in home wine-kits really saw its beginning in the 1970s when kits starting being produced by vineyards in Northern California. At the time, these kits were producing wine that had a larger amount of juice concentrate from pure grapes than wine made through the traditional methods over in Europe. Because of this, vineyards all over the world were forced to step up there game, not just in terms of the amount of grapes percentage per bottle, but in storage and packaging as well as the demand for freshness increased.
Making Wine from a Kit is Cheap
When looking at cost, home wine-makers have an incentive to make wine from kits as they are much cheaper to produce than making wine from grapes. There is no equipment to buy or rent, just what comes with the kit, and the amount of grapes you need to make several gallons of wine is cut down to a fraction of the cost. You can turn upwards of $400 into a $100 investment, and most home winemakers have taken notice.
Additionally, most kits on the market come with everything you need to get started and usually no additional purchases are necessary. The recipe kits come with clear instructions and the results will generally always be the same. Therefore, they are easy to modulate and experiment with. If you are brand new to winemaking, a wine kit is the best way to begin learning the art of wine, and if you are an expert, it’s the perfect way to deepen your current knowledge and skill-set. If you aren’t sure about which kit is right for you, check out our guide to the best winemaking kits for a great primer.
1. Wine Making Preparation
Before starting, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have everything you need. One thing to be acutely aware of is timing which will be critical throughout the entire process. Because of this it’s smart to have everything cleaned and ready to go so there is no overlap between adding the ingredients and cleaning the equipment.
Sanitization, even though it can be a pain, is extremely important. When making wine, resist the temptation to only clean the equipment before you use it. Make sure that it is thoroughly cleaned after every batch, and again before you use it to brew. This kind of methodical cleaning will limit the risk of contamination and obviously produce a better wine in the end.
The wine recipe kit will come with all of the directions you need clearly laid out. If you are a beginner, we suggest following these exactly, at least for your first time fermenting. After you have gone through a few batches, feel free to add or take away ingredients to make your own unique wine, but in the beginning, you want to eliminate as many variables that can go wrong as possible.
2. Starting the Fermentation Process
Open the contents of your kit and give them an initial check. This includes smelling and tasting them. The contents should taste fresh and have a strong flavor of the fruit. If they don’t, you may have a bad batch and would want to replace it with one that passes this initial test. Empty the concentrate into the main fermenter and follow it up with the primary group of ingredients. The instructions are going to lay this out very clearly so it’s important to follow the order carefully. Once everything has been poured into the fermenter, stir it well making sure all of the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and then dust the yeast onto the mixture.
At this point, most people will take a gravity reading to make sure the batch is on the right track. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, simply reference the recipe kit and it should let you know the proper reading that you should be getting. Any good mine making kit will include the needed hydrometer and using one is incredibly simple. Don’t let the long science sounding name fool you! Just place it in the must and take the reading. That’s really all there is to it.
3. Keeping an Eye on The Batch
The temperature at which the batch is fermenting at comes down to the preference of the maker. Generally speaking, red wines will live around 80 degrees to get things started off, and once the fermentation process has started, be brought down to 70 degrees. White wines start a little lower overall (about 10 degrees), so 70 degrees to start and around 68 degrees to finish. With any style of wine, you never want to go below 68 degrees as this will stop the fermentation process and the batch won’t move. With wine wines, most people will simply move the fermenting batch to a cooler room for the remainder of the process as this is going to give it some subtleties that straight out fermenting will not provide. But like anything, experiment with your own process and see what works best for your taste and preferences.
In the beginning, it’s important to be patient. You may not see any real fermentation happening for a few days. This is because when starting out, the batch is simply proliferating yeast cells until they reach a density that can handle the fermentation process. Just follow the temperatures laid out above and you will get there eventually. You just want to make sure that it doesn’t get too warm (above 90 degrees) or the finished wine will have some funky flavors. If it does happen to get that high, it may be best to just start a new one instead of spending more time toward a batch that won’t get drank.
Continue to check the gravity reading and once it achieves 1.020 you are now ready to rack the wine.
4. How to Rack Wine
During the whole process, you will rack the wine several times. What this really means is removing the sediment that has gathered in the wine and getting it into a fresh and clean carboy. One danger here is exposing the wine to too much air while it moves from carboy to carboy, but this can be taken care of my adding sulfite powder during the final racking.
Take your main fermenter and place it on a sturdy surface. The next step of siphoning the wine out is the same concept as siphoning gas from a gas tank. You want to put the siphon tube in, take two to three strong draws, and get the other end of the tube into the fresh carboy quickly before it starts coming out the other end. There is a bit of timing here but it’s nothing too hard.
The next step is to fill the rest of the carboy up with water that has been boiled to remove impurities and then cooled off as to not raise the temperature of the wine. At this point, you should sample the wine and make sure there are no off-flavors and everything passes a quick palatability test. Once you have determined everything is on the right track, apply the airlock and leave it to sit for 10 days. After those 10 days have elapsed, go back through the steps above and then leave it for three to four weeks. Once that time has elapsed, you will perform the last wine racking with the sulfite powder to eliminate any oxidation that may have occurred during the wine transfers.
For the final racking, store the carboy in a cool dark place where no light will find it’s way to the carboy.
5. To Filter or Not to Filter
At this point, some people will choose to filter their wine. While this is not always necessary as the wine kits include ingredients to make this step unnecessary, it can produce a more stable bottle of wine. The once downside is that unless you own it, you’ll need to rent the filtering equipment from a local retailer which will obviously increase the cost.
6. Getting the Wine Into Bottles
Now we are really getting close to a finished batch of wine. For a five-gallon batch, you will need about 26 bottles. These can be bought online and once you have them, you can continue to reuse them. Once you have sanitized the bottles, all you need to do is siphon the wine from the carboy into the individual bottles. There are bottling attachments you can buy that attach to the end of the siphoning hose and make this process a lot easier and less messy. You will also lose less wine due to spillage.
7. Aging the Wine
As any wine drinkers know, the wine takes on a life of its own with the passage of time. As wine ages, it shifts and evolves taking on different flavors and personalities. When you decide to drink it is up to you, but you do want to be aware of wait out the period of time knows as bottle shock. With bottle shock, there is an unknown period of time after the wine has been bottled that it hides its flavors and unique characteristics. The bottling process seems to halt the fermentation process and you’ll need to at least wait this particular period out. While the exact window isn’t known, you should wait at least 30 days after bottling before sampling your homemade wine.
8. Drink Your Wine
If you treat your batch well during its initial stages, it will reward you in the end with a delicious wine that you can enjoy for years to come. Making your own wine at home is an incredibly rewarding process and there is nothing quite like the feeling of figuring out a recipe that impresses everyone that tries it. While I love discovering new wines at the store, nothing compares to creating your own special vintage.